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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – November 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Blue Mosque, Istanbul -2013 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo planned on taking the rest of the week off, but couldn’t resist this:

We live in a time when inequality of wealth, income and influence is thought to be greater than at any time in history. Inequality strengthens social injustice and with it the existence of The Privileged and The Disadvantaged. Of those who have influence and feel they are entitled to everything, and those who expect little, receive even less but need most. Government policies are fashioned by The Privileged for their own benefit. The Disadvantaged, having little or no voice, are ignored, allowing the Cycle of Containment to be maintained, change to be suppressed and social divisions to deepen.

This is from a post entitled What Price Humanity? at Dissident Voice, and it is a pretty accurate description of where we are in America. More:

Sitting at the center of this socio-economic tragedy is an economic ideology that is not simply unjust, it is inhumane. Compassion and human empathy are pushed into the shadows in the Neo-Liberal paradigm, selfishness, division and exploitation encouraged. The system promotes short-term materialistic values and works against mankind’s natural inclination towards unity, social responsibility and cooperation, inherent qualities that are consistently made manifest in times of crisis, individual hardship and collective need.

Graham Peebles is asking what are We the People entitled to in 2017 America? And his answer is grim.

Wrongo thinks nothing is more appropriate to this discussion than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as stated January 11, 1944 in his message to the US Congress on the State of the Union:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

FDR could foresee the end of WWII when he gave this speech. He concluded that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Sadly, on this 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, we remain very far from these goals.

The inequality and sense of entitlement we see today won’t be turned around without work. Financialization is a poisonous monster. It dictates government policy, and makes the rules about how our businesses and governments at all levels engage with our people and our environment.

People are little more than sources of revenue: Their capacity to spend, to invest and consume determines how they are valued. Driving virtually every decision within the suffocating confines of the ideal is an addiction to profit.

FDR’s ideas seem quaint in 2017. The US cannot even ensure basic civil rights such as racial equality, much less “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most Americans have freely indentured themselves to the financial sector so that they can pretend to own a house in which to raise their kids, and a car to drive to work in order to earn income so they can make loan payments on the house and the pick-up.

Enough! Let’s forget about life for a while. Grab a cup of Climpson & Sons Signature Espresso that is 100% Adamo Sasaba from Ethiopia, and stay away from the turkey Tetrazzini at lunchtime.

Now, watch and listen to Narciso Yepes interpret Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto d’Aranjuez (Adagio) on his 10-string guitar. The 10-string was conceived in 1963 by Yepes, who ordered it from José Ramírez [III].

The conductor is Raphael Frübeck de Burgos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt. It’s a lovely piece with a remarkable guitar:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – March 11, 2017

(Wrongo and family are repositioning from a week at our annual [comparatively] low-rent  Mar-a-Lago equivalent to the Northeast. As a result, there will not be Sunday Cartoon Blogging or a Monday Wake Up Call this week)

The Daily Escape:

(Photo by Wrongo. Friday sunrise, 6:30 am)

With Trumpworld continuing to both amaze and depress, you need a soother today more than ever. Grab a hot cuppa something and take a walk on the beach with Wrongo. Here are two random thoughts that seeped into Wrongo’s consciousness while on the beach in 75° for the past few days:

Ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neandertals shows that they used plant-based forms of aspirin and penicillin. They’re the ones that went extinct, while it took us another 40,000 years to discover penicillin.

In 1943, a US destroyer accompanying the USS Iowa that was carrying FDR, fired a torpedo at the President. That destroyer, the USS William D. Porter, was only in service for two years, and had many mishaps in its short life. The flotilla was secretly taking FDR to Europe, and were maintaining radio silence as they sailed through waters thought to contain German U-boats. Not long into the journey, there was a massive explosion that shook the little fleet. All of the ships immediately began anti-submarine maneuvers. The chaos continued until the William Porter admitted that a depth charge had fallen off of the stern of their ship. The safety on the charge had mistakenly not been set, and when it crashed into the rough sea, it detonated.

Soon after detonating the depth charge, a huge wave smashed into the Porter, washing a man overboard, never to be seen again. As a result of the wave, the engine room lost power in one of its boilers. The mission, which had demanded total silence, turned into a fiasco of hourly reporting by the William Porter to the Iowa.

And it got worse. On Nov. 14th, the four ships were east of Bermuda when FDR wanted to test the defenses of the Iowa in the event that they came under an air attack. The crew of the Iowa launched weather balloons to simulate anti-aircraft targets, and fired its guns.

The Porter’s crew shot at the balloons the Iowa had missed. They also practiced torpedo drills, taking practice shots at the Iowa, which was 6,000 yards away. During live torpedo drills, the tube primers, (small explosive charges), were supposed to be removed for practice, but one torpedo man forgot to remove the primer from one of the torpedo tubes. The torpedo officer ordered the fake firing command, and an armed and launched torpedo whizzed across the sea straight toward the Iowa.

When Roosevelt heard that a torpedo was zooming toward him, he asked to be moved by his wheelchair over to the railing so that he could see it. Fearing an assassination plot, the Iowa turned its guns on the William D. Porter, but the crisis ended when the torpedo detonated as it struck heavy waves created by the Iowa’s increased speed.

After calm was restored, the torpedo man, Lawton Dawson, confessed to having accidentally left the primer in the torpedo tube and then attempting to conceal the evidence by throwing the primer overboard. An inquiry proved that the situation was merely a string of unfortunate events and the information was kept from the public.

Dawson was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor, and the rest of the crew’s careers were to be ended, but Roosevelt intervened, asking that no punishments be levied on the crew for the series of accidents.

Later, the William D. Porter was reassigned to the Aleutian Islands for a simple patrol mission. However the William D. Porter’s crew accidentally shot a five-inch artillery shell that landed on the base commander’s front yard: Situation Normal, all Fucked Up.

In honor of our stay at the beach, where we had remarkable sunrises daily, here is The Cyrkle with their 1966 song “Red Rubber Ball“. Few know that it was co-written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. The tune hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The band had one more Top 20 hit, “Turn-Down Day,” later in 1966. That was the year Wrongo entered the US military.

Listen to “Red Rubber Ball”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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What Will The Anger in Today’s Politics Create?

From part one of the WaPo’s four-part article, The Great Unsettling:

So much anger out there in America.

Anger at Wall Street. Anger at Muslims. Anger at trade deals. Anger at Washington. Anger at police shootings of young black men. Anger at President Obama. Anger at Republican obstructionists. Anger about political correctness. Anger about the role of big money in campaigns. Anger about the poisoned water of Flint, Mich. Anger about deportations. Anger about undocumented immigrants. Anger about a career that didn’t go as expected. Anger about a lost way of life. Mob anger at groups of protesters in their midst. Specific anger and undefined anger and even anger about anger.

And more:

In this season of discontent, there were still as many expressions of hope as of fear. On a larger level, there were as many communities enjoying a sense of revival as there were fighting against deterioration and despair.

We do not really know which party will pay the piper in November; the results are not even close to being knowable. Right now, the middle ground between the two parties has become more permeable than ever before in living memory, in large part due to failed expectations by both parties.

The Democratic Party has a deep fault line between its FDR-inspired branch, and its corporatist branch, represented these days by Hillary Clinton, which uses a surface fealty to social issues to differentiate it from the Republicans.

The country lucked out with FDR. He was a pragmatist, with no love of theory, and a willingness to entertain any idea on the basis of whether it would “work” or not. He was better than most other pols because, more than any other president after Lincoln, he was willing to look objectively at the ideas proposed by the left. Here is FDR on October 31, 1936, reflecting on his first term:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.

FDR was also willing to look at right wing ideas. In fact, he campaigned in 1932 on the promise of balancing the budget, an idea that could have been catastrophic. He revived the idea in his second term, almost sinking the New Deal, but the better ideas won out.

By contrast, the Republican Party is a collection of “high-minded” people, each with an obsession from which she/he cannot be dissuaded; like believing that tax cuts create massive GNP growth, or as Donald Trump believes, America can have tax cuts, undertake a huge military buildup and balance the budget without any cuts in benefits to Americans over 55.

Republicans continue to think the US is a “Christian” nation, they think only English should be spoken, and that all immigrants should be deported, and some believe that the 16th Amendment (allowing the federal government to levy taxes) should be repealed.

By contrast, the Democratic Party is a coalition of broad-minded people, trying always to stitch together interest groups and their needs with a leader of consequence to deliver change.

There are two schools of political thought when it comes to elections:

  1. Vote for the person, not the party
  2. Vote for the party, not the person

Democrats believe in #1, while Republicans believe in #2. This is why R’s will accept Trump as a presidential candidate, and it is why Dems think that is a crazy idea.

But Republicans didn’t count on Donald Trump, or his hostile takeover of their Party.

The question for the rest of 2016 is whether all of the manifest anger expressed by Americans will be put to good use, or if it will be used to give voice to thuggery and racism (Trump) or religious extremism (Cruz).

Public service is a duty and the calling doesn’t come quickly or easily. And that high-mindedness is absent in those that go into politics to gain personal wealth and power, like The Donald, or most of those in Congress.

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Has The Progressive Moment Returned?

(This is the second and final column on the Progressive Movement)

Few issues in the history of 20th and 21st century America have inspired more disagreement than the value of the Progressive movement to our society. Our high school texts taught that it was a movement by the people to curb the power of the special interests in our government:

COW Bosses

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler, 1889

The 1890s Progressive Movement was a response to dislocations in American life. There had been rapid industrialization of the economy, but there had been no corresponding changes in social and political institutions. Economic power had moved to ever larger private businesses, while social and political life remained centered primarily in local communities, even within rapidly growing cities, with great variability in quality of life.

But early Progressives believed that the problems society faced (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) could best be addressed by providing good education, better working conditions and an efficient workplace. The desire to regulate big business was mostly focused on creating a fair(er) deal for small businesses and workers. Others encouraged Americans to register to vote, fight political corruption, and let the voting public decide how issues should best be addressed (via direct election of senators, the initiative, and the referendum).

Essentially the struggle was a clash between the “public interest” and “corporate privilege.”

Daniel Rodgers’s Atlantic Crossings (1998), shows how European reforms at the time influenced American progressives, suggesting that the movement was not just an American phenomenon, but had roots in a European process of change. He describes the international roots of social reforms such as city planning, workplace regulation, rural cooperatives, municipal transportation, and public housing that traveled across the ocean to our shores.

This is something we see today. Populist movements from the left and the right are roiling Europe, just as they are in America.

In the mid-1930s, the New Deal allowed the country to return to a pent-up agenda of its Progressive past. Once again, we had an economic crisis, once again, the power of business was outsized versus the power of the worker.

Another Roosevelt reformer stepped into the role of Progressive-in-Chief. But where Teddy was a Republican, FDR was a Democrat. Regardless, change again ensued.

We hear Progressivism referred to as synonymous with the American welfare state. But, the original Progressives did not believe that a ‘welfare state’ was an end goal. In fact, the term ‘welfare state’ did not come into currency until the end of the 1940s, as a new label in the Republican Party’s attack on Social Security and other programs of the New Deal.

As we wrote in the review of One Nation Under God (2015) by Kevin Kruse, James Fifield, a minister who worked to bring Corporate America and Christians together said in 1935:

Every Christian should oppose the totalitarian trends of the New Deal…

Overall, Kruse’s book is an excellent analysis of how Christian fundamentalism and capitalism were conflated in the 1950s to erode the divide between church and state, re-casting Progressive political philosophy as both “un-American”, and “anti-Christian” at the same time.

Progressives were called Reds or socialists. It was a charge that would follow Progressives throughout the 20th Century, whenever Progressives returned to the cause of economic equality.

In American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2012), Michael Kazin shows that the US is unique among Western nations in that we never developed a viable, left-wing political movement. Unlike Europe, a progressive party has never succeeded in establishing more than a temporary foothold in American politics, despite the hysterical rhetoric of conservatives. We have had a Congressional Progressive Caucus only since 1991. It is comprised of one Senator and 75 Congress people, all Democrats.

Yet, Progressives still have had great success in shaping American society. During presidencies from LBJ to GW Bush, there was far more radical dissent in the US than at any time in the 1950s. Millions of Americans, perhaps a majority, came to reject racial and sexual discrimination, to question the need for and morality of military intervention abroad, and to worry that industrial growth might be destroying the climate.

Since Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party in 1912, Progressives have had little historic influence on electoral politics. In the earliest days of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, it was thought that his role was not to win the election, but to slip a few liberal planks into Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. But on the campaign trail, Sanders started drawing crowds of thousands, his ratings surged, and his became a Progressive moment in electoral politics.

Today, Progressivism is a cause in search of a candidate.

Many have called our time a new Gilded Age.

If so, the question then becomes whether Progressivism can once again move back into the halls of government, and be a positive force for change.

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